Cellist brings $11-million sound to Okanagan Symphony

Arnold Choi will perform with a cello valued at $11 million in Penticton for the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.

Arnold Choi is performing on a $11-million cello with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra this weekend. Choi won the right to play it for the next three years from the Canada Council String Bank.

Arnold Choi is performing on a $11-million cello with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra this weekend. Choi won the right to play it for the next three years from the Canada Council String Bank.

If the sound of $1 million perks your imagination, just think what the ring of $11 million would be like.

This Saturday the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra will allow the audience to explore that  at the Cleland Theatre as they welcome Arnold Choi, who will be playing a 1696 Stradivarius “Bonjour” Cello valued at $11 million.

Choi is the recent winner of the Canada Council String Bank competition which gives him the use of the exquisite cello for the next three years.

“Holding an instrument from 1696 you can’t help but just stare at it in amazement. It is in such amazing shape and such a beautiful instrument to hold,” said Choi. “Feeling the vibrations against your body as you play it and knowing that cello has been played by so many generations of cellists, and for me to be playing it at that moment is a miracle.”

Every three years Canadian classical musicians compete for the chance to borrow fine stringed instruments from the Canada Council’s Musical Instrument Bank. The competition is intense and decided by a jury of professional musicians and peers. With close to 20 instruments, the bank lent out instruments worth a total of over $36 million to 18 musicians in September. Choi’s instrument of choice was given to the bank by an anonymous lender in 2000.

“When you see you have an option of choosing a Strad you just can’t say no to that. The Strad is such a huge name in the music world, basically most musicians dream of playing on the Strad for five minutes let alone three years. I think everyone would have thought I was crazy if I didn’t choose it,” said Choi.

The cellist said the price of the instrument usually comes down to a few factors including the make, craftsmanship and the sound. Like many fine things, the cello seems to get better as it ages.

“There is a lot of debate of why the cello gets better with age and nobody knows for sure, but one theory is that over the years the vibrations of the cello help the sound open up after hundreds of years,” said Choi.

Currently finishing up his master’s degree at the Yale School of Music, one of Choi’s goals is to play the $11 million cello for as many people as he can over the next three years. There is no way to get around having to travel with the expensive instrument. While the Stanley Cup white gloved bodyguards, Choi chuckles that he doesn’t have quite the set up.

“Of course I take every precaution possible and clean it every time I use it. I think everybody who plays an instrument treats it like their baby. I am also required by contract to buy a seat for the cello on the plane,” said Choi, adding he has to cover the instrument with a blanket when it gets cold so the temperature changes don’t shock and split the wood.

Choi will be joining the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra following on the success of their opening concert in October. This program offers three pieces of stirring orchestral moods.

The concert opens with Canadian composer Marion Mozetich’s compelling Romantic Rhapsody, followed by Elgar’s evocative Cello Concerto in E minor, a contemplative masterpiece which was composed in 1919 following the destruction of the First World War.

“It is such a beautiful piece of music. It is one of the big concertos in the cello repertoire so pretty much every cellist at some point learns this concerto. It is so full of passion and I am really looking forward to playing with Okanagan Symphony,” said Choi.

The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra is excited to take the stage with Choi, who performed with them once before in 2006.

“Arnold is such a delight to have on the stage and our musicians are thrilled to make music with him again,” said Rosemary Thomson, music director of the orchestra. “Arnold’s talent combined with this one-of-a-kind cello will create a breathtaking performance of this sumptuous piece.”

The final piece is Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, the Rhenish which is comprised of five musical paintings illustrating the composer’s beloved Rhine Valley.

Join the OSO in Penticton on Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Cleland Theatre and be engaged by Romantic Rhapsody.

A pre-concert talk led by Thomson will be held an hour prior to the performance. Tickets are available from the Penticton & Wine Country Information Centre and by phone at 250-276-2170 or 1-800-663-5052.

For more info on the OSO visit www.okanagansymphony.com.